Quite honestly, I am on the fence about whether or not I should recommend Fences. Yes, it does contain some superb performances, but it is, unquestionably, a very stagey piece of work. Given that it is based on a play by August Wilson that is hardly surprising, but really when translating a story from stage to screen there ought to be more thought about how to make it cinematic.
The plot concerns Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington), a proud working class man with a wife and teenage son in 1950s Pittsburgh. Maxson once dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player but was considered too old when major leagues began allowing black athletes. Bitter over what might have been, Troy urges his son to not chase what he considers foolish dreams of playing college football. Subsequent events put a huge strain on his family, especially his loyal wife Rose (Viola Davis).
I can understand why Fences is an important play. It touches on themes of loyalty, pride, fathers who are unable to show love to their children, bitterness over being a victim of history, the perils of living one’s life through one’s children, honouring one’s parents, the folly of adultery and a great deal besides. And yes, the performances are superb across the board. An Oscar winning Viola Davis convinces utterly, and Denzel Washington chews the scenery to within an inch of its life. I just wish as a director he’d spent as much effort on thinking about how to make Fences work as a film.
If tremendous performances alone are enough to recommend a film, then by all means go and see Fences. Just don’t expect ground breaking cinema.